Today is the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy and instead of wandering out to see what Rome has cooked up, I’m sitting at home watching Extreme Makeover Home Edition and crying. I love that show. They always pick families with tons of kids, none of whom (according to the ‘before’ shots) have ever had to make their bed or pick up their clothes. And the family has usually just suffered a horrible loss. And everyone in the community loves them to bits and stays up all night working on their new house and baking brownies for the TV crew. It doesn’t ring true. In my experience, people aren’t that nice. And you’ve got to believe that half of the crowd that’s cheering for the Waltons or whomever on camera is actually thinking, “I have 10 kids who don’t make their beds and I just lost my senile legless father in a hunting accident. WHERE’S MY HOUSE?” Still makes me cry though. Okay, as I was saying, it’s Italy’s 150th birthday today, which may seem strange since it’s full of ancient stuff. Here’s my quick and dirty version of a very complex history. After the fall of the Roman Empire and prior to 1861, Italy was a collection of city-states, many of them under foreign or papal rule. After a long series of political unrest and many revolutions, Vittorio Emanuele II was named Italy’s first King. Rome was a papal possession and didn’t become part of Italy until 1870, so Turin became the seat of Parliament and the first capital of the country. Venice joined up in 1866. The three big names in the so-called Risorgimento (meaning ‘revival’) are Mazzini, Cavour and Garibaldi. Any Italian town you visit, no matter how small, will have a street or piazza named after those guys. Mazzini pretty much spearheaded the national revolutionary movement in Italy. He always dressed in black as if in mourning for his country (and because it’s slimming). Cavour designed the constitutional structure of the new Italian state and was its first prime minister. He did a super sneaky deal with Napoleon III, basically trading Nice and Savoy to France, in return for French support for the Second Italian War of Independence against Austria, which saw Lombardy unified with Piedmont-Sardinia. Garibaldi is a major national hero. He fought in many battles in both Latin America and Europe (earning him the sobriquet “The Hero of Two Worlds”). His Brazilian wife Anita often fought by his side. He always wore a red shirt, poncho, and sombrero, an affectation he picked up from the gauchos. One of his battles—fought against the French who were trying to restore papal rule—happened just about a mile from where I am sitting right now. There are all sorts of monuments at the battle scene on the Janiculum Hill—to Garibaldi, to Anita (who holds a pistol in one hand and a baby in the other!), and to the men who fought and died with him. I should go take a picture of them to post with this blog, especially since they’ve been cleaning the statues up for the past year or so in anticipation of today. But it’s pouring with rain, I’m in my pajamas, and I can’t be distracted from the matter at hand (which is to get Morgan to swallow his pain pills–he had a little operation yesterday. Say farewell to Berlusconi Junior!). Here’s an interesting story that a taxi driver told me many years ago. I used to live on Viale di Quattro Venti, which I always assumed meant Street of the 4 Winds (as it does). But it also means Street of the 84 and it gets its name from the 84 people who died in the battle on the Janiculum Hill. Happy Birthday Italy!